Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
With a record of 6-8-3 through the first 17 games of the season, the Anaheim Ducks sit in last place in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference, and 26th overall in the NHL.
Given the Ducks' strong playoff performance and seemingly deep lineup, their record is both surprising and alarming. How could a team that took the Detroit Red Wings to a seventh game in last year's playoffs, essentially costing the Red Wings the Stanley Cup, be so mediocre to start the 2009-10 season?
There are several reasons for the Ducks' shortcomings, not the least of which is the loss of perennial All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger, who was a huge part of the Ducks' defense and, coincidentally, has single-handedly turned the Philadelphia Flyers' defense into one of the NHL’s best.
The loss of Pronger hurts; so too does the poor play of J.S. Giguere and the ordinary play of Jonas Hiller.
Obviously, Giguere has endured some injury problems and has not been that big of factor in the Ducks shortcomings, but Hiller, who was huge for the Ducks last season, has taken a step backwards and that has cost the Ducks large.
Another huge reason for the Ducks' woes is the play of Ryan Getzlaf, who, through 17 games, has just one goal. Sure, Getzlaf has 18 points, but his lack of goal scoring is killing the Ducks in every conceivable situation.
Special teams are killing the Ducks as well. With a 17.9 percent success rate, the Ducks own the NHL’s 21st-ranked power play and the Ducks' penalty kill, a traditionally strong area for the Ducks, is ranked 28th overall, with a paltry 75.0 percent success rate.
With forwards Teemu Selanne, Todd Marchant, and Saku Koivu seemingly in the twilight of their careers, is it time the Ducks considered taking a step towards a re-tooling?
Let’s be clear here, I am not talking about a rebuild. Hiller and Getzlaf may be struggling, but their play has not been so horrible so as the Ducks would give up on either one of these players.
Besides, Corey Perry (12 goals, 21 points), Bobby Ryan (seven goals, 12 points), and Joffrey Lupul (five goals, eight points), have all played well this season and each one of them has All-Star potential, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
It’s no secret that the Ducks would love to unload J.S. Giguere and his rather large contract which will see Giggy make an alarming $7 million in 2010-11.
Trouble is, coming off a shaky 2008-09, Giguere has not played enough to impress anyone and, in fact, has looked very ordinary when he has played. Combine that with Giguere’s injury history, and you have yourself a player who will be very tough to deal.
So, unable to trade Giguere and seemingly unwilling to part with any of their young guns, how are the Ducks going to re-tool? Well, if it were up to me and admittedly it isn’t, I would trade veteran defenseman Scott Niedermayer.
Stay with me here...
Sure, Niedermayer is a perennial All-Star, a tremendous leader, the glue that binds the Ducks defense and, outside of Teemu Selanne, probably the most popular player in Ducks history. That said, I still trade Niedermayer, no guilt, no shame, no looking back.
Niedermayer is in the last year of his contract and, at $6 million for 2009-10, it is a fairly manageable contract, especially when you consider Niedermayer’s career numbers and accomplishments.
Niedermayer’s accomplishments include a Gold Medal at the 2002 Olympics, a Gold Medal at the 2004 World Championships, a Gold Medal at the 2004 World Cup, a Gold Medal at the 1991 World Junior Championships, a Norris Trophy in 2003-04 (defenseman of the year), a Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP), three Stanley Cups and a multitude of All-Star games.
Simply put, Niedermayer is the “shizzle” and, as such, is the most valuable asset the Ducks can peddle.
Here’s the good news. Niedermayer does not have a no-trade clause, so he is unable to block a trade and, with his retirement status always in question, the Anaheim fans would likely forgive/understand if the Ducks management decided to part ways with Niedermayer.
Niedermayer's value would be huge. Fact is, outside of Corey Perry (who there is no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks the Ducks are trading) there is no other player on the Ducks roster that would bring as much of a return as Niedermayer would.
We are not talking about a first-round pick and a couple of nobodies; we are talking about receiving a package that would likely include a first-round draft pick, a legitimate young roster player and one or two blue-chip prospects.
With all that in mind, which teams would be a good fit? The Chicago Blackhawks, weary of having to sign a bunch of young talent in the off-season, would love to add a player of Niedermayer’s ilk and they have the talent to pass onto the Ducks.
A package of the Blackhawks first-round draft choice in 2010, a choice of forwards Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg or Dustin Byfuglien, or defensemen Brian Campbell (whose contract the Hawks would love to get rid of) or Cam Barker and a top-ranked prospect, such as, Jack Skille, would be the likely asking price for Niedermayer.
The Hawks want and, very likely may need, to win now. With that in mind, when you consider his resume, Niedermayer may very well be the player the Hawks need to bring a Stanley Cup back to Chi-town.
Another team that is in a very similar situation as the Hawks are the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver has the roster and the depth to get a deal done as well and could offer up a player like forwards Alexandre Burrows, Steve Bernier or Mason Raymond, or defenseman Alexander Edler.
Vancouver has a ton of top-level prospects to deal, including Michael Grabner, Sergei Shirokov or maybe even highly touted Cody Hodgson. Hodgson may be a bit of a pipe dream, but you never know...
Niedermayer could be the difference in some very talented NHL clubs simply making the playoffs or actually winning the Stanley Cup. Don’t be surprised if he’s on the move before the Olympics or at the deadline, with the Canucks and Hawks in hot pursuit.
Until next time,